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At ease on TV, China's new leader breaks with the past

Friday, 16 November 2012 - 2:16pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

Xi will be rubber-stamped as China's president next March at the annual meeting of the parliament.

Xi Jinping stepped forward as China's new paramount leader yesterday (Thursday) with a remarkable speech that shattered Communist Party convention.

The 59-year-old son of one of the party's revolutionary heroes walked out, just before noon, on to a red dais in the Great Hall of the People, fulfilling a destiny predicted since his youth.

He was anointed the head of the Communist Party and the head of the military as Hu Jintao relinquished all his roles.

Xi will be rubber-stamped as China's president next March at the annual meeting of the parliament.

Standing at the head of a slimmed-down, seven-man ruling council, he signalled that his era would be different, breaking with "formalism" and "bureaucracy" to deliver a "better life" for the Chinese people. Appearing entirely at ease in front of hundreds of television cameras, Xi was a stark contrast to his predecessor, Hu Jintao, whose final addresses as president were stiff, interminable and packed with jargon.

Xi's speech was confident and eloquent, without any slogans or the customary hat tips to the leadership and wisdom of Chairman Mao, Deng Xiao-ping, Jiang Zemin or Hu.

"Our people love life and yearn for better education, stable jobs, more satisfactory income, greater social security, improved medical and health care, and a more beautiful environment," he said.

"We want our children to grow up well and have better jobs and more fulfilling lives. The people's desire for a better life is what we shall fight for. Every bit of happiness is created by hard work."

He outlined a vision of a more co-operative China on the world stage.

"We will make the Chinese nation stand rock firm in the family of nations," he said. "China needs to understand the world better and the world needs to understand China better too." And while he said the party had "every reason" to be proud of its achievements, he said that its 82?million members must conduct themselves "honourably".

"Our party faces many severe challenges and there are also many pressing problems that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, being divorced from the people, and going through the formalism and bureaucracy caused by some party officials," he said.

"We are well aware that the capability of one individual is limited … one can only work for a limited period of time, but there is no limit to serving the people with dedication. Our road ahead is a long one," he said.

Xi's grand entrance won instant plaudits. "He looks confident, self-composed and the logic of his speech is clear. His wording is unpretentious," said Li Weidong, a liberal former editor of China Reform magazine.

A well-connected commentator, who asked not to be named, said: "The most impressive thing is that he did not mention Maoism, Marxism and Leninism. He spared us the routine rubbish that the former leaders used to spout."

In an optimistic signed editorial in the journal Caixin, Hu Shuli, a well-connected journalist, said the Party Congress, which closed on Wednesday, had given "more substance" to hopes of further reforms. "China as a country in transition bears signs of an authoritarian society," she wrote. "This makes it all the more crucial to have checks on power."

While many hope that Xi may usher in a fresh era, the line-up of men alongside him in the Politburo Standing Committee appears relatively conservative.

Aside from Li Keqiang, 57, the number two, the other five men on the ruling council are aged between 64 and 67.

Standing in matching suits, and all exactly the same height, the new leaders each stepped forward in turn to greet the media. Only one man, Wang Qishan, 64, broke the dress code, wearing a blue rather than a red tie.

After Xi spoke, the seven men exited stage left.


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